Doubtful Election Violates Democracy

April 26, 2013 Op-Eds, Opinion

Venezuela currently has no legitimate president. Nicolás Maduro is underqualified to serve in the highest civil office in the Republic of Venezuela. His only professional experience outside of politics is driving buses and has no education beyond high school. This, however, is not why I refuse to recognize his victory in the April 14 elections. I believe in democracy: if the Venezuelan people speak at the voting booth and the voice of the majority says “Maduro for President,” so be it. The problem, simply, is that the will of the people is indeterminate at this point. The election may or may not have been fraudulent—there is no concrete, reliable evidence to prove the affirmative—but what is certain is that there is doubt. There is doubt as to whether voting records were collected and compiled correctly; there is doubt as to whether all votes cast were legitimate; and there is doubt as to whether the integrity of the system was maintained throughout the suffrage process.

Were all voting records properly collected and compiled? The Venezuelan people cannot know with certainty because, as Globovisión reports, 535 voting machines (which register every elector’s vote and produce an electronic tally) were reported as malfunctioning on the day of the election. These irregularities affected approximately 189,982 votes, according to El Nacional, a major national Venezuelan newspaper. This figure represents about 1.2% of the popular vote, which becomes significant considering that the vote difference between Maduro and the opposition candidate Enrique Capriles was of 1.8%, according to a Venezuelan national news corporation, Globovisión. A further source of doubt regarding the compilation of votes is the forcible removal of table witnesses (citizens that oversee and verify the suffrage process) from 286 voting centers, all of which were of the opposition party.

Were all the votes cast legitimate? Maybe, but there is the equal possibility that they were not. A concern that the opposition voiced in a formal complaint to the National Electoral Council is that there over 600,000 people in the voter registry that are deceased. Why are they on the registry? Were votes cast in their name? In Venezuela, a citizen’s vote is secret; the possibility of fraud, however, is a sufficiently compelling interest to investigate these names and the voting behavior associated with them. When a person over 120 years in age casts a vote in an election (the Guinness world record for age is 115), there is reason to investigate the legitimacy of that vote.

There is doubt as to whether the integrity of the system was maintained throughout the suffrage process.

Was the integrity of the electoral system maintained throughout the suffrage process? There is no certain answer. 564 voting centers, according to Globovisión, reported abuses of the system of “assisted voting,” which is designed to allow physically handicapped and illiterate citizens to cast their vote. Voting regulations allow for voters to register an assistant that will help them complete their suffrage process should they not be able to do so independently for the reasons above. What they do not allow is systematic assisted voting. That is, a person may not be an assistant for more than one person.
Photos and videos taken at various voting center throughout the country show systematic assisted voting taking place. A voter requesting an assistant should know and trust his or her, and each assistant should be registered under one and only one voter. If a voter cannot read or otherwise understand a voting ballot and he or she is helped by a person unknown to them and is essentially told which buttons to press and which ovals to darken, the integrity of that vote is breached. According to El Nacional, the use of systematic assisted voting affected 1,479,774 voters nationwide (about 10%).

As a pre-law student, my rejection of the 2013 Venezuelan Presidential election results centers on the validity of the process, which I dispute, not on the results themselves. In a court of law, a criminal defendant cannot be convicted of an offense unless his or her guilt can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That is, even if absence of guilt cannot be proven, a shard of reasonable doubt prevents conviction. This high standard is set because society values the rights of the individual and makes their curtailment an especially important matter. A conviction with the presence of doubt violates the rights of the defendant and erodes the validity of those that all people hold. Similarly, the right of a people in a democracy to cast a meaningful vote and elect their leaders in free and fair election is a matter of paramount importance and deserves the highest standard of protection.

Deciding an election in the face of reasonable doubt violates the rights of all the citizens that voted and erodes the meaning of those rights for the youth that will earn them in the future. The results of the election are uncertain, and a total recount is necessary to preserve the rights of the Venezuelan people and the principles of democracy, upon which the Venezuelan constitution is built.

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